• Demystifying the coffee value chain,  The Bean

    Switzerland goes bananas for sustainable trade

    In the early 1970s, a group of forward-thinking women in Switzerland were brought together by a simple but far-reaching question. They wanted to know why bananas imported from the tropics were cheaper than apples grown in Europe. The question went to the heart of the exploitative trading practices of the banana trade and a movement was born. Led by social activist, Ursula Brunner, the Banana Women – as they came to be publicly known – continued to ask questions about unfair trade and how to address it. Their campaign grew to become the Working Group for a Fair Banana Trade – or Gebana for short.   Today, Gebana has diversified into other foodstuffs but…

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  • The Bean

    A new dialogue in direct trade

    A tech-based platform could be set to revolutionise how coffee roasters and growers interact and trade with each other. Algrano, a Swiss-based start up that officially launched earlier this year at Nordic World of Coffee in Gothenburg, Sweden, is shorthand for the Spanish phrase vamos directo al grano, or fittingly translated as – let’s get straight to the point. It’s a simple but effective concept that has already scooped a coveted SCAE award for tech innovation. The pioneers behind Algrano are also setting their sights on nurturing a global community of coffee professionals from opposite ends of the speciality coffee value chain by creating a space for dialogue and direct…

  • Nepal,  The Bean

    Seeds of recovery take root in Nepal

    Two months have passed since natural disaster struck Nepal but new shoots of recovery are already beginning to take root. “It has been a massive blow to our people. I fear that our infrastructure and development has been pushed back by two to three years,” says Appa Sherpa, Director of the Nuwa Estate Coffee. Since April, he has been heavily involved in the local relief effort since the earthquake tragically claimed thousands and flattened villages – leaving millions homeless. And the arrival of the monsoon rains bring an increased risk of landslides  – threatening further damage to livelihoods and crops. It is particularly acute for Nepal’s fledging coffee industry that has…

  • London,  The Bean

    The pleasures and pains of coffee

    Ever since the age of the enlightenment, the literary canon is steeped in references to the seductive power of coffee to refresh the senses and stimulate mind. From Beethoven to Voltaire, the creative output of musicians and writers has been fuelled by its invigorating properties. But there is one particular writer who stands out in his legendary lust for a drop of the good stuff. The prolific French writer and playwright, Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850), had a reputation for taking his coffee addiction very seriously, and often to extreme lengths. So serious was his desire to summon his mighty literary muse from a steaming cup of Joe that he would…

  • El Camino,  Spain

    Buen camino

    The familiar greeting of “Buen Camino!” (literally meaning ‘good road’) amongst fellow pilgrims personifies the friendliness and camaraderie amongst the wayfarers who travel along the Way of St James. Often carrying a scallop shell and occasionally a gourd to signify their pilgrim status – and to ward off thieves or those with less than honourable intentions – the vast majority of pilgrims walk whilst a minority, including myself, cycle the route. I’ve already met a Dutch couple who are travelling with their young son on brightly coloured recumbents festooned with flags; gangs of lycra-clad mountain bikers in search of the next adrenalin rush; cycle-tourers on tandem bikes; and even a…

  • Ethiopia,  London,  The Bean,  The Bike,  United Kingdom

    Ubuntu: The spirit of coffee

    Of all the insights that I have gained into coffee culture on the trail to Ethiopia before returning back to the whirlpool of London life, there is one softly spoken truth that endures. It is a universal truth that runs through the coffee trade and culture like a golden thread, connecting every stage of its complex supply chain from field to cup. It is a philosophy that cannot be fully expressed in books, research papers or from the good intentions of policy-makers. Its application cannot be taught out of a school textbook. Neither can it be bottled, packaged or commoditised in the interest of profit. It transcends all these things;…

  • Ethiopia,  The Bean,  United Kingdom

    Trading seeds of change

    Born in the Oromia town of Warra Jarso, 175kms north of the capital Addis Ababa, Abiyot Shiferaw was brought up with his two sisters and four brothers in a happy family environment. Like all Ethiopians, they celebrated special occasions by holding a traditional coffee ceremony. From an early age, Abiyot had a strong sense of fairness but saw injustice all around him. He saw how his fellow countrymen and women did not have access to clean water or could not pay for basic medical treatment. He observed how children were denied an education because their parents couldn’t afford to send them to school. He witnessed state-sponsored corruption at the hands…

  • London,  The Bean

    The god shot

    If there’s one thing that braces you more than the culture shock of visiting an awe-inspiring country like Ethiopia, it’s the reverse culture shock of returning to the United Kingdom. In the winter. So, after arriving in Southampton dock by ferry from Normandy under the cloak of a moody blighty morning, I proceeded to do what seemed to be the most natural thing by now, and make a brew. A short ride to the pebble beach overlooking the straits separating the mainland from the Isle of White was all that was needed to find the perfect spot in which to prime the stove-top Bialetti. As the dim light of daybreak…

  • Ethiopia,  The Bean,  The Bike

    Road to Lalibela

    You can understand why King Lalibela wanted to establish his ‘New Jerusulem’ in the back of beyond. Reaching the holy town is a journey in itself. Nearing the final leg of my ‘Tour de Ethiopique’, I set off at daybreak from the junction village of Gashana to get some kilometres behind me before reaching the fabled ‘pista’ that I knew lay in wait before me. Affectionately termed by Ethiopians as a road without tarmac, the ‘pista’ is by all intents and purposes a ‘road’ surface consisting of rubble, volcanic detritus and infinite quantities of dust. Riding it on two wheels is little like skiing without poles; it’s a controlled fall,…